France’s anti-terrorist prosecution unit has not yet been instructed to take over the investigation.
The man armed with a knife attacked several people at random in the Hautes-Bruyères departmental park in Villejuif (Val-de-Marne), on Friday, January 4. One of the victims, a 56-year-old inhabitant, died while defending his wife, reported Le Parisien.
Two other people were injured, including a man seriously, according to a police source relayed by BFMTV and confirmed by the prosecutor of Créteil, Laure Beccuau. The third victim is a woman. The nature of her injuries are not known.
According to the initial results of the investigation, the assailant was named Nathan C. and was born in 1997 in Les Lilas. Known by the police for acts of violence against the police, he was not on file S for Islamic radicalization but had a history of psychiatric problems.
Investigators must now verify if he had been receiving treatment. He was neutralized by at least three shots from police officers from the Anti-Crime Brigade (BAC) when he “fled to the Carrefour de L’Haÿ-les-Roses shopping center, where he apparently intended to continue his attacks,” said mayor Vincent Jeanbrun.
“The attacker, when the police arrived, pointed towards them with ostentatious weapons in hand in an attempt to kill them and the police used their assault rifles, with which they are equipped, to neutralize the attacker who fell to the ground,” said François Bersani, deputy departmental secretary of SGP-FO Police Unit.
The suspect was not carrying explosives, but a team of deminers was dispatched to the scene nevertheless. “The attacker pretended to use what could have been an explosive vest, hence a new round of fire to neutralize the aggressor definitively,” added Vincent Jeanbrun.
According to RTL, which reported the interviews with several witnesses, the man, of European type, wore a djellaba and beard at the time of the facts. A photo taken on the spot just after the attack partially confirmed this information, showing the alleged killer lying on his back and dressed in what looks like a black djellaba.
In addition, according to LCI, a letter with religious references and a book on Islam were found close to the body.
Moments after the fact, Generation Identity member Damien Rieu relayed a video on Twitter, in which we hear a Muslim man who witnessed the scene expressing his anger… because of the “police blunder”.
— Damien Rieu (@DamienRieu) January 3, 2020
Everyone in the mall was locked in. “We must remain very careful, to know whether or not there were accomplices,” Vincent Jeanbrun exlained to the news channel. The Secretary of State working for the Minister of the Interior Laurent Nunez arrived at the scene of the attack around 3:30 pm, accompanied by the Paris police prefect Didier Lallement.
He praised “the quick response of the personnel of a BAC in the Kremlin-Bicêtre district which made it possible to neutralize the assailant immediately preventing the continuation of an undoubtedly deadly journey”.
Only the Créteil prosecution will investigate for the time being. But the anti-terrorist prosecution may take over it has been rumoured since several of its representatives visited the site of the knife murder.
On Twitter, reactions quickly poured in. The mayor of Béziers Robert Ménard was the first, deploring “what looks like a first terrorist attack” in 2020.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner congratulated the police for their “responsiveness, coolness and professionalism”.
The President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron reacted a little later, in the early evening. “The year opens in mourning after the drama of Villejuif,” he said, ensuring that he will continue “with determination the fight against indiscriminate violence and the fight for the safety of the French”. He notably remained silent on the religious aspect of the gruesome attack.
The leader of Debout la France Nicolas Dupont Aignan, for his part, denounced “an ignoble act” and gave his support to the police, the victims and their relatives.